Too (2012 – ) [ installation in ‘Being Human’, Wellcome Collection, London, 2019 ]
Found 35mm photographic slides including dust from the floors of the Pantheon, Rome and Euston station concourse, London, 2019
Nine c-type prints: image size; 35cm x 24cm, external frame size; 47 x 36.2cm.
Commissioned by the Wellcome Collection, London for the permanent exhibition, Being Human.
(from the ongoing series Too, began in 2007, first exhibited in 2013).
In the Too series shown at The Wellcome Trust there are two groups of images.
One group has accumulated debris from being dropped on the floor beneath the oculus (a speck of dust in the eye) of the Pantheon, in Rome in November 2018, the other group was dropped on the concourse at Euston station in December 2017, just across the road from the Wellcome Trust.
Their assembly here is across these two groups; some images ‘damaged’ at a site that is ancient, unique, exotic, and spiritual and others by a site this is local, modern, banal and familiar. Both public spaces prompt quite different forms of attention from their publics. Chodzko suggests that their collective meaning (in the form of a message? a signal? or instruction?) can be explored by the viewer in the relationships drawn from the juxtaposition of disparate places, times and environmental events.
This particular arrangement of images also reveals connections between pictures. For example, a group of bystanders inspecting tornado damage in one image seem to be looking out of the frame towards a man fruitlessly digging out flood water in another. A white car suspended in a flooded river seems to be echoed by a dark car in the tornado damaged town above it. The un-illuminated hazard warning light in the foreground of the lowest middle image appears to cause the flare emanating from the right border of the lowest left flood image.
It all seems to be operating (beyond logic) as a complex single system.
Adam Chodzko’s photographic series Too is an evolving project exploring the process of vision, imagery and human behaviour, particularly our passivity or activity in response to visual signs of environmental destruction. Chodzko is interested in how looking produces affect for the witness to an event, or for the subsequent viewer of its image. His work focuses on the possibility of being psychologically overwhelmed by the process of seeing. Despite the image’s meaning and its call to action (ultimately in order to transform the way we interact with the world) we mostly, unfortunately, end up participating in a form of bystander effect.
Too’s source material are found 35mm slides (a collection Chodzko began in 2010) showing amateur documentation of environmental damage, particularly the impact of hurricanes, earthquakes and floods or depicting the looming danger from brewing storms. The reversal celluloid image, having been ‘taken’ within the body of the camera, is then, much later, added to, by dirt, creating its state of “too” [much]; it’s excess, on top (literally) of the material of photographic witness and the subsequent sharing of this image of an already extreme event.
‘It never rains but it pours’.
This further disturbance to the image is performed through the ‘accidental’ accumulation of surface dust derived from particular locations, a home, an airport, a school etc. Dust, dirt, ‘foreign bodies,’ if they appear in a camera or within the image processing, are normally carefully removed from the surface of the film since their presence is normally seen to be disrupting the quality of the image. But in Too, dirt’s ‘interference’ is constructed and embraced. It makes the image awkward, or even ‘ugly,’ but somehow it also ‘makes sense’ of the image.
A narrative suggested by this act is that the images were assembled (for a lecture? as evidence? for an archive?) and then dropped (a dash across an airport lounge for a flight? a security inspection? lost property? a loss of interest? a disposal?) depositing on the surface of each slide a layer of particles which mostly emanates from the bodies of ‘other people’ or, at least, their activities. This surface debris, normally something to be cleaned from the slide, here seems to connect and enhance the subject matter. It appears to be caused by the event, or perhaps the event causes it, airborne matter, apparently falling from the sky or erupting from the earth. It might suggest something apocalyptic, that wherever you are in the world there are now particles, pollution, constantly falling from the air. This debris becomes part of the image, a ‘mask’ to it, in the sense that it both conceals that picture yet also could be seen to exemplify and reveal something about the true ‘nature’ of the image’s disturbance.
The dust therefore acts as a form of filter to visual perception; it indicates a previous ignoring of the image (they were just ‘gathering dust’) whilst also suggesting an urgency in the present (they need to be seen immediately, before we have a chance to clean them!). The debris partially obscures what the image shows but also, because in front of the image, acts as a frame or screen, blocking our ability to sink into its illusory space.
The source of the dust for a particular group of slides is clear but certainty about the place and time of the image is erratic. In some iterations of Too exhibitions image is separately titled with its location (if known, through notes on the slide-mount) and date (if known, although the dates often printed on the slide-mount by the processing lab indicate the date of processing, not the date the image was taken). Some of the images are therefore subtitled [place unknown, date unknown]; just as the dust adds a layer of ‘data’ as deposition to the image, the image’s journey from its initial ‘capture’ in the camera can also involve an erosion of its accompanying information . Most of the Too series uses 35mm photographic slides taken between the 1950’s and late 1980’s when this form of image making was at its most popular.
Chodzko’s interest in 35mm reversal slide film is partly due to the image being materially present in the camera at the moment of the event so that the same piece of celluloid is present, later, at the moment of its encounter with a viewer through projection (whereas a negative requires a positive print). This particular status of the indexical, enhanced by the presence of dust on its surface, makes clear the image’s status as photographic material. We are invited to acknowledge the construction of this image in order to appreciate the event it portrays and our active role in creating both; the image and its subject.
By destabilising our relationship to the viewing image, making us more active so that we do some ‘work’ as viewers, we then perhaps might find the capacity to feel involved in the environmental destruction depicted in the image.
The problem with the depiction of extreme events is that, as viewers, we tend to read them as ‘unreal’, ‘cinematic’, ‘spectacular’, ‘sublime’, ‘awesome’ etc. They are somehow both beautiful and deadly and beyond everyday life. The fact that the Too series derives from images taken by amateur photographers – ‘ordinary people’ – helps nudge the spectacular state of the image and the nostalgic warmth of its celluloid representation of the past towards an acceptance of its present reality.
The subject matter is extreme, unusual, a ‘freak of nature’, an aberration. The images are then ‘found’ by the artist; a chance encounter. They are then subjected to a further accident, a fall, their contamination. Perhaps this could this be seen as a Freudian slip; A minuscule speck of dust now magnified to the size of a crow, a car, haunting the image – the return of the repressed. The original image is too much yet not enough; Climate change imagery is generally not enough to make us act. It is often aesthetically somehow pleasing, mesmerising; distancing us, through the production of imagery so satisfying that we don’t need to get involved in its meaning; climate change imagery, environmental disaster imagery seems to occupy the gap or lack that we could otherwise be drawn into.
Using images taken by someone else – recycling them – then adding dust, Chodzko is also navigating the guilt associated with the process of creating damage in order to portray damage, avoiding much of the carbon footprint left, by travel, in order to report destruction. The retrieval of these existing, abandoned images is partly an attempt to minimise environmental impact, but in trying to mediate them (eg; was a visit to Rome really necessary?) is also contributing to the problem.
The dust acts as a form of language, a text inscribed upon the image, articulating; this event has already happened, why didn’t you then do something about it?
Chodzko’s work with dust as image or incorporated into image can also be seen in works such as Ask the Dust and the idea of damage in relation to vision occurs throughout Chodzko’s work; eg; Sleepers. Hole, and is implicit in I See Through Every Image. His work with the materiality of 35mm slide film also appears in his performative slide lecture, Longshore drift, early Detroit techno and other processes of erosion (2006). Surface damage as medium is used in Chodzko’s series; You’ll see; this time it’ll be different (2013) whilst the deliberation as to where the image really exists can be seen in Nightvision.
The idea of place being a point of oscillation between two sites in space and time (in Too the place and time of the image and the place and time of the dust accumulation) also operates in a number of Chodzko’s works, such as Better Scenery.